The Shelling of Prayers


Right this very minute, I’m inhaling the smell of garlic and bacon simmering and bobbing amidst the peas I shucked last summer, their little black eyes peering at me from the pot.  All last summer I sat and shelled them, long afternoons while the washing machine swished and my brain pulsed hard with thoughts of change and going back to work and whether I’d ever be happy.  Break off the end, pull the string, run my fingers alongside the edges so the peas tumble out with little joyful pops, and then breathe out slow.

I was about to say that I talked to God in times like these, but that sounds all idealistic and cliché, like I have these spiritual moments in the south when I’m in an apron with an armload of peas and later I go into the garden and cut zinnas and make sun tea.  I do those things, but it’s an inaccurate description of reality.

A more accurate version is that I sat there in a t-shirt while the kids were watching cartoons, tired and half-dazed, in the middle of a divorce and an outbox full of emails expressing my “absolute interest in working for your organization,” wondering why the children always threw clean towels in the laundry when they were used one stinkin time, frustrated that it took an hour to pop out damn little peas that would gather in a ziplock for three days until enough of a harvest could fill a bag for the freezer. There was an apron, but it was stained and wrinkled.

But the thing is, I did talk to God in times like these.  It was more of a guttural cry to a Father with whom I worshipped and loved and yet sometimes didn’t honor and barely understood and I just wasn’t sure how my life would possibly work out.   And yet I began talking to God anyway.  I prayed and spoke and sang and wrote and at times just scowled in a general Godly direction.  Sometimes I wanted to take a bucket of peas and throw them across the French country table toward the back door.  But the more I cried out to Him the more I knew – I knew – from deep down inside my veins that pulsed and kept beat with my living heart, that this amazing love was indeed listening.  That redemption was not just a word we hear in biblical circles, but an action.  That somewhere and somehow, beauty was lurking.  Next season, perhaps.  But in time, it was coming.  I didn’t even feel it, but I wrote it on my chalkboard nonetheless.  Trust Him to keep his promises.  It will come.

Last year was long.  It was dark.  It was filled with forgetfulness and compromise and getting buried deep in thought. Break off the end, pull the string, run your fingers through until the little peas pop. And yet here I am.  The peas smell so good bobbing in the chicken broth, hunks of bacon letting the grease flow into their little green shells.  My mother is so excited to eat them, “fresh from the garden,” she says.  “So exciting.”

My tears are now rather different, for they flow with gratitude for my amazing life, and my beautiful children who bless me.  My daughter walked in moments ago wearing my fedora and scarf, and her blue eyes poured love inside of me in a way that she may never understand.  And my son crawls up next to me and settles, breathing in deep as if we together are stronger than apart.  And I weep actual tears at the glory of my mother, who stays with us and bakes cakes and makes dinosaur caves with my son and sews dresses with ribbons for my daughter and is so unselfish and pure in all her ways.  I have friends who allow me to be stitched forever into their lives, forming a tapestry of us, and I have found a man that is so special I can barely speak of him.

Like each pea I popped out of a shell, my prayers were heard. My God.  You are so holy to love us, and powerful to protect us, and glorious to redeem our broken lives.  I am nothing but a shell left on the floor after the words are spent. But in my small role I will play it well, because in another season there will be a purpose, and there is a greater glory, and in the end it will all make sense.

To those who are struggling, hold fast. God does indeed hear every single breathy prayer you may utter.  And in time His brilliant glory will be revealed, even if it’s in a year, or five, or after this mortal life is shunned.  But like the seasons this too shall pass, and we will someday cry a different kind of tear, and I am living proof that a heart can indeed heal.

Last year I shelled a lot of damn peas.  And today, we shall eat them.  With smiles on our faces, bacon grease running down our chins, butter melting into cornbread.  And we shall laugh, and we will play board games, and water the garden, and I will probably roll my eyes at my mother.  Later I have a date, and will wear high heels, and will feel strangely full.

Redemption.  It smells a lot like bacon. And it’s beautiful.


Small graces


It’s been a long year.  A year I didn’t expect.  Emotions I certainly never thought I’d face.  I know I’m not alone in the pain of Things Coming Out of Nowhere, like a beast in the night.  Whether it’s cancer or the death of a mother or divorce or the loss of a child: you can’t build up reserves in advance to “handle it.”  You are just thrown right in that cold lake without quite knowing how to swim, and you have to just keep gasping for air and thrashing around until you can find a way out.

I’ve yelled at God a lot lately.  Maybe not literally, but inside of me there’s a hot place in the middle of my chest that burns, and grows large, and I think things like “you must be on vacation” and “seriously? I’ve been saying the exact same prayer for a year now and I’m getting sick of listening to my own internal dialogue.”  And then I feel guilty, because God’s God and I’m trying to squeeze into his chair and tell him how to run things, which makes me sad again, and it’s a vicious cycle.  But I say the same prayer anyway, because there’s that old story of a relentless widow. I hope God doesn’t get sick of reruns.

Today, a friend told me that every day provides us with small graces.  Look for them, she said. I nodded, because that’s what you do when people say that things will look up or God will redeem all or time heals.  You just smile and nod, but they don’t really know my life.  The vending machine is all out of small graces, because butterflies floating on my lantanas don’t make my heart heal, or pay my bills, or make my soul at peace.  I glare at the monarch in an angry, pity-fueled darkness, and I just want to release my grasp on the log that keeps me afloat and just sink underneath in slow motion. I grit my teeth and say the same prayer that I say every freaking day, over and over again, and hope God will listen. I might not be in his chair, but I’m going to sit at his feet and just keep tapping on a toe until somebody hears me.

I don’t think we would be human if we didn’t go through times like this.  Just psalmists crying out in lamentation about the unfair, cruel, and often confusing place we find ourselves in. I know I should be thankful for a thousand gifts, and see all these small graces fluttering on my nose, but I’ve clenched my eyes shut.  Because as it turns out I don’t run the world, and I can’t see into my future, and I don’t always know what’s best for me.  Like the time I cut bangs and wore acid-washed jeans.  We can’t trust ourselves, people.

I think sometimes it’s easier to rot in our own self-pity than force ourselves to prop open our eyelids and see the protection around us.  The fact that our legs are strong, and the log came floating by, and there’s a stranger fishing for carp that heard our cries.  The fact that the rains stopped, and the boat came, and you looked up to see sunlight streaming like laser beams through the parting clouds.  Maybe God’s the one who’s yelling, and we’re so busy wallowing that we don’t even notice.

So now, my legs are still shaking but steady, and I’m heading slowly to shore in a beat-up old fishing boat.  My arms still clutch an imaginary log in the water, and I’m hoarse from screaming, but I’m humbled.  And quiet for a change.  And slowly, as tears of gratitude well, I croak out the same prayer.  The one I’ve yelled and screamed and whispered and sobbed. The same one I said yesterday and the same one I’ll say tomorrow.  Once, months ago, I said this same prayer and sat there in my bedroom for a solid four hours waiting to hear a reply, like a staring contest with God.  I heard birds, and an airplane, and a squirrel’s chatter, which hardly counted.  And yet now with a blanket around my shoulders it feels suddenly new again, and I know that every single heartfelt prayer has been heard and felt and inhaled like incense to a loving Father. I don’t know the answers, or my future, but I smile at the benevolence I do not deserve.

A butterfly rests on my arm – wings like lace so delicately displayed.  It’s high noon, and the sun that has provided me with such little warmth fuels it’s very flight, all the way to Mexico over fields and river and stale grey condominiums.  It breaks apart from his brothers to land here, just for a moment on my arm, like he’s been waiting for me to come.  It fills that burning hole in my chest with love.

She’s right, my friend. Every day does indeed provide small graces.  Look for them.